General: Troop Withdrawal Hinges on Iraq Vote
Gen.: Troop Withdrawal Hinges on Iraq Vote
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer 45 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - U.S. troops could begin coming home from
Iraq next year, but it depends on conditions during
and after the upcoming elections there, the top U.S.
commander in Iraq told Congress on Thursday.
The remarks by Gen. George Casey, along with similar
comments he made a day before, represented a softening
of his earlier assessment that a "fairly substantial"
pullout could begin next spring and summer.
Casey said the result of the upcoming Iraqi referendum
on a new constitution on Oct. 15 and December
elections will affect whether conditions on the ground
will be appropriate for withdrawing U.S. troops.
"The next 75 days are going to be critical for what
happens," Casey told the Senate Armed Services
Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces
in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S.
Central Command, were testifying before the Senate and
House Armed Services committees alongside Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B.
Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
President Bush sent the group to Capitol Hill for
back-to-back House and Senate hearings to try to
convince lawmakers and their skeptical constituents
that the United States is making progress in the war
despite slipping support at home.
Before the Senate panel, the generals warned that
defeating the insurgency would take time. "Success in
Iraq will require patience and will," Casey said. "To
be sure the next couple of months are going to be
Casey said the insurgents will try to affect the
political process in the coming weeks but he said they
would not win.
By the December elections, he said, the number of
Iraqi security forces available will rise to 100,000,
allowing the United States to ask for only 2,000 more
U.S. troops compared with the 12,000 extra needed
during last January's elections.
Abizaid warned lawmakers that Al-Qaida is the main
enemy to peace and stability in the Middle East and
the terrorist group is seeking to acquire and use
weapons of mass destruction there. "The enemy that
brought us 9/11 continues to represent one of the
greatest dangers to this nation," Abizaid said.
While the Bush administration has refused to set a
timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Casey has
repeatedly said a "fairly substantial" pullout could
begin next spring and summer as long as the political
process stayed on track, the insurgency did not expand
and the training of Iraqi security forces continued as
But when reporters asked Casey on Wednesday whether he
still believed that to be the case, he said, "I think
right now we're in a period of a little greater
uncertainty than when I was asked that question back
in July and March."
"Until we're done with this political process here
with the referendum and the elections in December, I
think it's too soon to tell," Casey said.
Rumsfeld's spokesman later played down Casey's
"In July, he had one assessment. He has an assessment
now that could still result in what he said earlier,
it could result in no change, it could result in
more," Lawrence Di Rita said.
Congress has not held a hearing on Iraq with top
officials since before its August break.
Back home in their districts, lawmakers heard from
constituents whose discomfort about Iraq was reflected
in polls that showed sliding support for Bush as well
as the war effort.
Republicans have increasingly started expressing
concern, although most continue to support the
Democrats have begun to ramp up their criticism of
Bush's Iraq policy as that country's Oct. 15 vote on a
new constitution nears and the U.S. death toll
Before the hearings, Senate Democrats implored
Rumsfeld in a letter "to provide frank answers" to the
public's questions about the war, including the status
of the training of Iraqi security forces and expected
U.S. troop levels over the next year.
"Continued stonewalling, or simply saying these
answers are 'unknowable' or are 'conditions based,'
are no longer satisfactory. The Congress and the
American people deserve better information," the
But Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record),
chairman of the Senate committee, told Rumsfeld: "I
think you're setting forth with great clarity" on the
U.S. strategy in Iraq.